Thursday, March 31, 2011

Southern Belle v. Dougie Howser

Regardless of where a person is born and raised, nobody likes getting older.  Some folks go to elaborate lengths—such as fudging the numbers on birthdays—to keep the myth alive.  Some folks also take an “ostrich in the sand” route by completely ignoring anything and everything having to do with how old they are.  Birthdays?  Don’t have ‘em.

Unfortunately, Time waits for no Belle regardless of whether or not it is being studiously ignored.  Yep, even the ostrich has to pull its head out of the sand in order to read the invitation to its 20-year high school reunion.  One also must pull its head out of the sand in order to attend the graduations and weddings of the little tykes they babysat.  A friend of mine mentioned the other day that, when her former charges have babies, she actually feels a little bit like a grandmother.  Not untrue...sigh...

Yes, it’s the classic case of a youth thinking that 30 is the pit of despair/the point of no return and that 40 is positively elderly.  Great.  So what are we supposed to do when we find ourselves staring at 40? 

It’s the little things that get us.  It was a very, very dark day when I suddenly realized that I didn’t understand one single thing broadcast on MTV and that I preferred Retro VH1.  Scott got bummed when he turned 36 because that meant he was out of the 18-35 demographic targeted by media and advertisers.  (My tastes kind of run toward the quirky, so I was already used to being ignored in the popular demographic arena.) 

Rather than sit back and enjoy the ‘80’s weekends on the radio and I Love the ‘80’s I just get kind of self-conscious and bummed.

In my line of work, it actually does help me to stay tuned into what “kids are doing these days.”  Although I will probably never understand why my younger clients do what they do and think what they think, I can at least get an idea as to some of the predominant thinking at the time such as the latest trend of “murdering cars out.”  I don’t get it, but at least I know what it is.

I also don’t think I’m exaggerating when I tell you that the younger kids I work with speak a completely different language.  As I’m sure you can imagine, it helps greatly to be able to converse with a client.  It also helps when I don’t have to spend any preciously earned cool points by having to ask what in the hell “they jacked him up on the down-lo” means.

I remember when Bill Clinton first got elected and my dad was kind of taken aback by the fact that, for the first time, he was actually older than the President of the United States.  I can relate, but on a less global scale.

I think the thing that gets me most are the doctors.  I had to take Baby Belle 2 to the pediatrician and I apparently babysat the doctor that saw us.  Of course, I don’t have to know the doctor personally in order to get completely depressed.  I always get nervous when the little Doogie Howser types come into the exam room looking like they should be playing dodge ball in the high school gym rather than checking out my asthma flare-up. 

If I hadn’t had a chance to stare at all of the “Top Surgeon in the Universe” awards while waiting for my doctor, I very likely would have hauled ass out of the room when he came in looking not a day over 12 in his cute little bowtie.  (Want some lederhosen to go with that look, doc?)

Yeah, it’s scary as hell when little whippersnappers go and get medical degrees and such, but sometimes the jobs that your contemporaries fall into can be even more scary.  When it comes to your contemporaries, you know where the bodies are buried.  That guy that did the keg stand at the summer party on Masonboro Island?  Navy SEAL.  The dude that fell off of his own deck during a college party?  Nuclear Engineer.  I can’t even get into the number of cops I know from my youth—I mean, somebody actually gave them a gun? 

Get yer’ bomb shelters ready, folks.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An Azalea Festival Field Guide

Every year since 1948, Wilmington hosts the North Carolina Azalea Festival.  What in the world is the Azalea Festival?  Well, it’s a big ol’ party for a plant that is drop-dead gorgeous for about three weeks of the year and looks like a dull, overgrown weed for the 49 left.  Mind you, the Festival Folk take great pains to hold the party during those three precious weeks so attendees don’t stand around wondering what the big fuss is all about.

If a person grows up in Wilmington, chances are very high that they have had at least some part in the Azalea kerfluffle at some point in time.  There’s a parade, a garden party, concerts, street fair and all sorts of other activities and it seems to get bigger every year. 

As for Yours Truly, I don’t think I missed a parade for the first eighteen years of my life and I even rode in one of the floats once.  I donned the hoop skirt of an Azalea Belle when I was sixteen and there’s even a picture of me wearing the full kit on a cover of the old Scene Magazine (don’t bother seeking it out).  My mother ran the ticket office for around three years, so I worked there and also got some darned good seats for a couple of the concerts.  I’ve attended more garden parties than you could shake one of those often served cornbread sticks at—could we get a new caterer, please? 

When I was little, I was enamored of the queens and their sparkly tiaras and the beautiful parade floats that seemed to glitter in the sun.  All of the pageantry, pink and fluff is very much catered to a little girl’s taste.  When I got older, I most heartily appreciated all of the events that excused me from school and I enjoyed the concerts and street fair and such.  Of course, when I grew into an adult, the extra crowds and traffic caused by the festivities simply made me irritable—even more irritable than average.

Suffice it to say that I’ve been around the block—or parade route as the case may be—plenty of times when it comes to the Azalea Festival.  What kind of hostess would I be if I didn’t offer a few pointers to lead the rookies safely into the fray and out to the other side?

The way I see it, the tackling the Azalea Festival breaks down into three main components:  (1)  The crowds;  (2) outdoor activities;  and (3)  the concerts.

You might as well go ahead and start your deep breathing exercises or confer with your Jedi Master so you don’t fall prey to the Dark Side of the Force.  The crowds are going to test your fortitude.  Wilmington’s population doubles at the time of the Festival which still pretty much means that 99.9% of the folks don’t know where in the hell they’re going—there’s just more of them.  One must be prepared to protect oneself on foot or in a vehicle.

When it comes to the crowds teeming around the parade, street fair, beach and various parks and gardens, there’s no point in trying to be in a hurry or even on time.  Also, you know those kid leashes that non-parents find so offensive until they actually become parents and then they wonder if making the collar electric would be a touch much?  You’re gonna need several.  Obviously, the kid needs theirs, but I often find that shepherding groups of people through events such as this bears a troubling resemblance to herding cats.  You’re way past ready to leave, but hubby wandered off to the antique cars and grandma took an interest in the craft tent where the lady makes the weird-assed dolls out of nude colored pantyhose. 

Everybody who expects to ride home in your car gets a leash.  No exceptions, no excuses.

Additionally, if you have the ways and means to obtain a cattle prod, I’ve often found myself wishing for one during numerous Azalea festivities such as the street fair and the parade.  It’s a personal choice, but something to consider.

Now, when it comes to actually being able to drive home—or anywhere for that matter—the same rules regarding not bothering to be in a hurry apply.  When you are out on the roads, it is best to assume that everyone in front of you, behind you or beside you is from out of town.  Lane demarcations, stop signs, stop lights and pretty much any rule regarding the safety of the roadways do not apply.  Folks will slam on brakes out of nowhere, make a sudden right turn across two lanes of traffic, attempt three-point turns slap in the  middle of I-40—you name it. 

I would like to suggest that someone invent removable rubber inner tubes for full sized cars.  Navigating Azalea Festival gridlock could be so much more fun if you could play bumper cars.

If you don’t think you can hack the crowds, there’s no shame in it.  Just do what any good Wilmingtonian does for hurricanes and the Fourth of July:  Go and buy a week’s worth of groceries and then go home, lock your doors, close your blinds and don’t come out until the All Clear.

Teeming hordes aside (actually watching a couple of zombie flicks would probably give you a leg up as well), there are a few other little pointers that might help an azalea newbie when it comes to the outdoor venues. 

As far as the parade and the street fair go, blinders for the kiddies certainly come in handy.  Nine times out of ten, the whole reason you find yourself wandering among the throngs is for the benefit of the little stinkers, but there are pitfalls. 

Of course you want the munchkins to see the circus elephants and the Baby Belles always love the tiaras and sparkly dresses on the pageant beauties, but those darned junk traders that carry their overpriced wares precariously stacked upon shopping carts are landmines.  Yep, those kids see the cheap plastic, flashing lights and cotton candy and you’re suddenly doused in silly string, carrying laser swords and chasing after precious pumpkins who have just been infused with high octane sugar.  It can happen so fast that you don’t even know what hit you:  Uncle Ethan still isn’t sure how Baby Belle 1 managed to talk him into buying an inflatable Batman at the parade last year...upon interrogation, he testified that everything “was just a blur.”

In addition to the blinders for the parade, I can only suggest that you lug your entire wardrobe with you to camp out on the parade route.  Why?  Well, you have to be up and at the scene at the crack of dawn if you want a good seat and, at that point, temperatures are positively Arctic.  Of course, as the day wears on, the sun comes up and you’re suddenly sizzling on the sidewalk like a piece of bacon.  It would be at that point you might want to shed the ski bibs and parka and opt for the tank top and SPF 1000 sunscreen.

The Azalea Festival concerts used to be a lot of fun.  I say used to because I used to get good seats with my nepotistic connection.  The truth is that, if you’re forced to sit more than ten rows away from the act, you better bring your damn iPod because that’s the only way you’re going to hear any music.  Trask Coliseum is an acoustic black hole.  It is where sound goes to die.  It is not, never has been and never will be a venue for anything other than basketball.  Scott and I went to see Al Green a few years back and we couldn’t even tell what songs he was playing.  It was horrible and the price of the tickets was highway robbery as it was.  

If one adheres to these instructions, there is every reason to believe that one will see the dawn of Monday morning.  Welcome to the club.  The hazing will commence shortly. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On the Ol' Soap Box

The jury.

To the starry-eyed young lawyer, the jury is still the backbone of the U.S. Legal System.  Who better to judge a person than twelve of their peers after a presentation of all of the evidence?

Who better?  Well, I could go outside right now, throw a rock and the first squirrel or possum I managed to hit would be a preferable alternative.

For starters, do you know how many people want to get taken out of their lives and forced to sit through what can often be grueling evidence for the whopping salary of about $12.00 a day?  Okay, I’ll grant the occasional little old lady and bored retiree, but that’s about it.

Would you like to hear some of the excuses jurors use to try to get out of jury duty?  Let’s see:

  1. Hair appointments;

  1. Hooters reservations;

  1. Pollen (although I could possibly be swayed by that one);  and my personal favorite...

  1. A naugahyde allergy.

If the heartless judge doesn’t buy the well rehearsed sob story, take heart:  There’s still the Unappealing Juror Strategy.  By the time lawyers question everyone before you, you have a pretty good idea about the nature of the case before your butt is called to fill Seat 7.  Even if you’ve only tuned in sporadically, you also have an idea about what the lawyers do and don’t want to hear. 

Some wonderful citizens actually get the meaning of civic duty and answer how they are supposed to, some folks hit the jackpot and know one of the attorneys or parties thereby buying an almost immediate ticket back home and some folks take the liberty of getting...creative.  Would you care to hear some of the better lines of prospective jurors?  Okay:

  1. He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t do it;

  1. Do I know about chiropractors?  I know enough to prefer Voodoo;

  1. What?  Hmm?  I have ADD and lost track of what you were saying;

  1. The cops beat up my son and he’s a good Christian boy, so who knows what they would do to some shady character like him? (pointing at Defendant);

  1. I don’t think that women should be allowed to drive so, yeah, I got a problem with the fact that a woman was driving one of the cars in the wreck;  and

  1. The Defendant looks like my ex-husband and he was a total bastard.

Trying a case in front of a jury today is more of a crap shoot than ever before.  We are most unfortunately in the era of Court TV and that Godforsaken Judge Judy.  Jurors think that they know what is going on behind the scenes and they may very well know exactly that, but the juror’s task is to look at the evidence presented and come to a determination, not to swath the facts in inferred hoopla.

For example, when a personal injury case of any sort is tried, all parties—from the judge to the janitor—are expressly forbidden to mention the existence of any insurance whatsoever.  In a car wreck litigation, the automobile liability insurance is very likely paying for the defense, but mention it and you get an automatic mistrial and very likely a judge’s note to the State Bar. 

Although defense attorneys and insurance companies may beg to differ, the initial reason for the insurance taboo is to take away the deep pockets in the mind of the jury.  If the jury thinks that they are rendering a decision against little ol’ retired school teacher Ms. Perkins, they will contain themselves better when it comes to slapping on damages.  Of course, if Ms. Perkins is insured, then the mega-million insurance company is writing the check, so what the hell?

The tide has turned.

These days, Anne sues the truck driver who plowed into her with his 18 wheeler because the driver couldn’t find a radio channel to his liking.  Anne’s injuries are tremendous and some are even permanent, she’s lost her job and—not to put too fine a point on it—everything sucks.  She’s suing the truck driver and the company that employed him.  The truck driver pled guilty in criminal court.  Medical expenses surpass half a million and future surgery and continued physical deterioration are pretty much guaranteed.  The jury comes back and answers the critical questions:

  1. Were Defendant Driver’s actions negligent?


  1. Was Plaintiff injured by the joint and several negligence of the Defendants?


  1. What amount is Plaintiff entitled to recover from the Defendants?

ANSWER:  $1.00

What did the jury have to say for itself after the verdict?  Well, they assumed that Plaintiff had health insurance and it probably picked up most of the tab.

True story.  Be afraid.  Very, very, very afraid.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Belles and Haints

I am a five-star chicken.  A class-A milquetoast.  A scaredy cat of the highest order.

Why?  I’ve seen too much that can’t be explained.

Now, before you start thinking that I am some sort of conspiracy theorist hunkered down in my basement with maps and pictures linking everything to the clandestine visits of little green aliens, please understand that I’m not talking about that sort of thing.  Mind you, I do find it hard to believe that we are the only intelligent/unintelligent life forms in such a vast universe.  I mean, duh—humans can be such a narcissistic breed.

I do believe that it is possible to throw a hex on someone because I grew up around my Grandma Willie.  Grandma certainly isn’t a witch or a voodoo priestess or anything, but there is something to that Black River Magic in South Carolina.  Of course, it is perfectly within your rights not to believe me, but please extend me the courtesy of letting me know when you are planning on testing the Hex Theory so that I can maintain a 100 mile perimeter from you at all times. 

I also believe most heartily in ghosts. 

One of the founders of my father’s former law firm made a point of coming into the office as much as he could in spite of his age and failing health.  Of course, he had the plushest office in the firm—the only one with a private bathroom—and he was quite fond of it.  The partner passed away.  Every year, on the date of his death, a cat shows up at the firm and hangs around until the partner’s birthday when it leaves for parts unknown.  

I worked near the partner’s abandoned office for quite some time and I can personally tell you that the water faucet in the bathroom would turn itself on and the toilet would also randomly flush.  Environment be damned, I wasn’t going in to turn one cotton picking thing off.

The house that holds our new firm is about 150 years old and it also comes with a story or two.  The building was originally owned and occupied by a cabinet maker/undertaker who worked out of his home.  In the 1950’s the man that lived in the house killed the lady that lived next door with an axe.  Good times.

In spite of all of the aforementioned troubling history, we are so far-so good when it comes to haints (as my father says).  There was one troubling incident with a noise coming from the ceiling, but it ended up being a family of squirrels.  There was also a dead possum under the house once, but no human bodies were unearthed or anything.

The situation that forevermore sealed the deal with regard to my belief in ghosts occurred in Ye Merry Olde Englande. 

When Mom and I got dropped off in England by the Queen Mary 2, we had a couple of days to kill before catching a flight (boo hiss) back home.  We wanted to go someplace that we hadn’t seen before, so we settled on the Isle of Wight. 

The Isle of Wight is the southernmost tip of England and it is only accessible by boat.  The Isle’s location proved integral to British defense for hundreds of years and—being the insatiable history buff that I am—I was totally on board. 

We made a reservation to spend the night at Ryde Castle.  Talk about history—Ryde Castle is one of the oldest structures on the island.  The Castle was strategically built by Henry VIII with the intent of achieving first and early warning should a Spanish Armada try to approach the country.  Hundreds of years later, the castle was used for British Intelligence in World War II and its remote location proved to be strategically helpful in that situation as well.  Today, Ryde Castle is a lovely and award winning hotel.

Our room was exactly what one would expect in a Medieval castle.  The walls were covered in ornately carved oak.  The four dark oak posters on the bed were nearly as big around as tree trunks and it was canopied with in a deep red velvet that matched the other accents in the room.  There was a sitting area with a red couch and chairs that would have looked equally at home in the Vatican.  There were two sets of large French windows.  The bathroom was surprisingly up to date with a big garden tub (a rare find in the U.K.)

The slight little catch with the room was that there was only one bed.  I decided to be the good daughter and sleep on the couch.  I grabbed a pillow and one of the bed covers and hunkered down for the night.  I don’t know exactly when everything started because there wasn’t a clock in the room, but trust me when I tell you that it was late at night and dark as pitch.

After finally finding a comfortable-ish position on the ornate couch, I had just started to drift off when all of the windows in the room opened and slammed closed so hard it was a miracle the glass didn’t shatter.  I sat straight up in bed trying to figure out what in the hell had just happened, but Mom was still sound asleep and I told myself that it was weirdo fluke.  The castle sat right at a cliff overlooking the sea, so the wind could get crazy and French doors aren’t always the easiest to secure.

I put my head back down, but I was way too fidgety for sleep at that point.  After another few minutes, the windows did their open/shut thing again.  I got up and walked over to the windows to take a look at them.  They seemed to be okay.  I opened one of them and stuck my hand outside in an attempt to determine the strength of the breeze.  It was breezy, but it wasn’t exactly whipping around or anything. 

I plopped back down on the couch and, sure enough, the windows started opening and closing, but, this time, they were joined by the bathroom door which also started opening and closing.  It was as though something was trying to get my attention and it was getting peeved that I wasn’t playing along, so it decided to kick things up a notch.

I was officially freaked out at that point.  I told myself that it was the wind in spite of my earlier investigation and findings.  I also had no hypothesis whatsoever for the bathroom door, but I just kind of whitewashed over that in my mind.  The windows and the door were making so much racket that I didn’t understand how in the world Mom could still be asleep.  I got into as much of a fetal position as the narrow little couch would allow and pulled the covers up over my head.  Yeah, it was a chicken shit thing to do, but cluck, cluck.

About a minute or so after I tucked into my blankey, the whole thing was pulled clean off of me and thrown to the other side of the room.  There wasn’t a single person or thing in the room that could have reasonably accomplished that task.  One can’t blame the wind but for so much, you know. 

After that, I did what any self-respecting and educated 33 year-old would do:  I ran and got in bed with my mama.  

There weren’t any other issues for the remainder of the night. 

The next morning, I walked down to the front desk, desperately trying to find a way to approach the ghost conversation that didn’t make me sound like a total fruitcake.  A nice middle-aged lady wearing a cardigan and little half-moon reading glasses smiled welcomingly and said, “Can I help you?”

“Good morning!  I know this probably sounds a tad strange, but...well...hmm,” I looked at her staring at me politely and waiting for me to get to the point.  I took a deep breath and went for broke, “Okay, this is an old castle after all ya’ll have ghosts?”

I expected some thinly veiled British disdain and perhaps even a quick call to the police, but she smiled even wider and said, “We certainly do.”

I wasn’t expecting that.  “Oh!  Well, okay.”

The lady continued, “He’s perfectly harmless, just a bit of mischief in him is all.  He’s particularly fond stealing guests’ toothbrushes.”

I was speechless (rare, I know).  Had I known about the toothbrushes I would have gone to Sam’s or Costco before the trip and bought one of those packs of 487 toothbrushes for $10.00.  It might have saved me a world of trouble.  As it was, I’d had my brush with the paranormal and I was a believer, but I was done.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Voyage Fit for a Belle

I hate to fly.  I absolutely, unequivocally, categorically detest air travel.  My hatred of airplanes extends back past the horror of 9/11 and it has only grown more fervent with the dumbass airlines thinking that they can strand you on a tarmac for 48 hours without air, food or water and charge you for use of their Lilliputian and vile smelling lavatories all while practically robbing you for the “privilege” of flying with them in the first place.  God forbid you complain lest a platoon led by Donald Rumsfeld swoops in to cart you off to Guantanamo never to be seen again. 

It’s like being forced to smile during a colonoscopy.

I am also extremely claustrophobic and it is a recorded fact that I can do no more than 3 hours on one flight without crying, screaming, clawing at my neck for air, asking if could borrow one of those oxygen masks that allegedly drop from the ceiling or requesting a parachute so I can jump out and walk or swim the rest of the way to my intended destination.  

It’s kind of hard to juxtapose all of that with the fact that I love to go to the United Kingdom, dream of cruising down the Seine with my husband, want desperately to go to Venice before it sinks and can’t wait to visit Michelangelo’s masterpieces at the Vatican.

I guess that’s at least partially why I have always been fascinated with the idea of a trans-Atlantic cruise.  It harkens back to the time when folks didn’t have to do hops from Idaho to Tokyo and back in less than 48 hours.  The journey was as much a part of the experience as the destination.  Also, being the Type A+++ personality that I am, I was particularly fascinated at the thought of seven days at sea:  No internet, no phone, no TV.  Was it possible that a media junkie of the 21st Century could actually go cold turkey and not end up babbling to themselves and twitching uncontrollably? 

Additionally—at the risk of stating the obvious—a boat is the only other way to get to the UK from USA without flying.

Several years ago, I either saw or read about the Queen Mary 2 and its trans-Atlantic voyages.  Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure that it was possible in this day and age to catch a boat over to England unless one was willing to ride a freight ship and share space with oil drums and such.  It was exactly what I was looking for, so I mentioned it to my mother.

My mother is a die-hard travelling machine.  She doesn’t care where you are going and what you are going for:  She’s more than happy to come along for the ride.  You wouldn’t believe some of the places she’s voluntarily visited and, even though she does bring rather awful vacation luck with her, I wanted to go on the QM2 so bad that I didn’t care.  Yes, I was willing to risk The Poseidon Adventure meets Titanic.  Accordingly, we packed up and flew to New York (tolerable at an hour and a half) to catch a boat.

And what a boat it was.  That ship is immense!  Of course, one wouldn’t necessarily want to board a dingy with the intention of sailing across some seriously frigid portions of the Pond.  As a matter of fact, we were charted to sail directly over graveyard of the very, very dangerous to do with my mother on aboard. 

Leaving out of New York Harbor was cool.  It kind of gave a view of what immigrants saw when they came to America.  I must admit that I was completely underwhelmed by the Statue of Liberty.  The books and the movies make the statue seem huge as though it looms over the incoming vessels, welcoming the poor, tired and hungry, etc.  Yeah, if statues were allowed to have attitude, I’m thinking that Lady Liberty would have a serious Napoleonic Complex.

Our cabin was at least slightly bigger than an airplane seat and the bathroom smelled worlds better.  One thing is for certain:  I want the photographer who made our room look nice and spacious for all of those online photographs to come and get pictures of my house when the time comes to sell—it’ll look like we live in Versailles.

I can’t believe that I was worried about twiddling my thumbs and descending into insanity aboard the QM2.  The boat was a floating city.  There was a library, a movie theater and a casino.  There were some top notch stores and I made lots of new friends at the spa.  The food was...peculiar, but you’ll never hear me accusing the British of being good cooks.  Let’s just say that we didn’t starve to death and leave it at that. 

We walked the ship deck and enjoyed the surprisingly balmy breezes of the North Atlantic in May.  I think it was either day 3 or 4 that the seas got a little choppy.  I wasn’t bothered by it—the massive stabilizers on the boat were sufficient for me—but we had a number of older folks on board and their equilibrium was a little more sensitive so there was a lot of weaving and ducking going on in the halls with little or no booze to blame.

The most poignant moment of the journey occurred when we sailed over the remains of the Titanic.  I may be the only person left on the planet who has never seen James Cameron’s movie and I don’t care to.  The few clips that I have been unfortunate enough to catch confirm my feelings that it is mindless, fluffy pap with entirely too much artistic license.

That being said, I am familiar with the actual history of the Titanic and its terrible human tragedy.  You would be hard pressed to find someone more glued to the television than me when the wreckage was finally found.  When the QM2 passed over the wreckage at high noon on the fourth day of the voyage, a bell was rung and the entire ship went completely silent for one minute.  I can’t really describe the feeling that came over me on that day, but I am getting chill bumps right now just telling you about it.

So, yes, my voyage across the Atlantic was even more wonderful than I thought it would be.  It was more than fitting to house and haul two Southern Belles and we all know that’s a tall order.  Furthermore, I quickly came to the realization that boats are the only way to travel.  Period.  I am looking into establishing a waterway into Raleigh and any other inland cities that I frequently visit—ya’ll can come along for the ride.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Vacations and Hexes

As I have likely mentioned before, there are certain rules in life:  Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to on cross examination, never agree with your wife when she suggests she looks fat, never get in between a mother of three and the juice box aisle when there is a sale on at the grocery store and never, ever ask a Southern Belle how old she is.

Well, you can add one more certainty to that list:  Never go on a trip with my parents.

It’s not that my parents aren’t fun—I hear they’re great at parties.  It’s just’s just that they don’t have the greatest luck on vacations. 

I don’t really know when it started.  I guess it was the shipwreck.  When I was in law school, Mom and Dad took a cruise with some friends of theirs.  I think the cruise originated in England and went to Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia.  Who doesn’t want to take a cruise and freeze half to death? 

I’m going to tell the story the way we found out:  It was about 5:00 AM when the phone rang at the Smithfield residence of Mr. and Mrs. Scott Council.  The phone was on Scott’s side of the bed, so he leaned over to pick it up and I heard him say, “Hey, Steve.  Ok.  Well...good.  That’s good to know.  Bye.”

“What in the blue hell was that all about?”

“Um...that was your dad.  He wanted to let us know that they were okay.”

“Fabulous.  Why the need to tell us at the crack of dawn?”

“Well...they’ve apparently been in a shipwreck and they wanted us to call your brother and your grandmother and let them know that everything is okay before the morning news comes on.”


Well, I called Grandma and Ethan and did as I was told and they were equally bewildered about the urgency of the message...and then I turned on the TV.  Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and anyone else you can think of lead off with these pictures of a cruise ship with this big assed hole in it and many variations of the same dramatic line:  DISASTER IN THE ENGLISH CHANNEL.

Things apparently went swimmingly (pun intended) until the return trip to England.  The cruise itinerary had the ship sailing the last night in order to get to port in the English Channel first thing in the morning for disembarkation.  My parents were nestled all snug in their microscopic little cabin bed when they got knocked out of that same little cabin bed with a stunning jolt accompanied by an almighty crashing noise. 

Dad got up to take a peek out of the window to see what in the world was going on and he was greeted by the sight of another ocean liner scraping up the side of their ship literally a nose length away.  Seriously—he could have reached out and touched it had he been so inclined. 

A tanker transporting cyanide (yes, cyanide) caught fire and the entire crew was lending all of their attention to putting the fire out.  One does not want a tanker full of cyanide to explode and/or sink right off of the English coast—or, I dare say, any coast for that matter.  To make a long story short, no one was looking where they were going.  Both ships were heading toward port and I don’t know if the cruise ship thought they had the right of way or whether they were engaging in a sporting game of high-risk chicken, but it didn’t end well.

My parents weren’t overly thrilled about their mega-ton wakeup call and all of the other passengers were ready to get off the damn boat and commence the process of putting their vacation behind them.  The problem was those pesky little cyanide containers and whether or not they maintained their intergrity.  Everyone was detained and British officials used their soothing Masterpiece Theater tones (I was in a bomb evacuation at Heathrow Airport once and it’s very hard to be freaked out when the serene announcer is practically offering you a cup of tea over the loudspeaker) to assure that everything was perfectly okay—they just needed to check a couple of things first.  The problem was that the British officials were issuing their assurances while dressed in full HAZMAT gear.

After an interminable morning, folks were finally sent about their merry way with vouchers for free cruises.  I suppose you might call that the “glass is half full” approach.

Every single trip my parents have tried to take to Africa has been called off at the last minute due to the need for emergency surgery to them or a member of the family.  There was a nasty shower accident in Morocco made even more harrowing by the fact that a couple of goats and a chicken had been seen in the front yard of a hospital passed by earlier in the day.  There was a bad flare-up of an eye condition on a trans-Atlantic cruise where the ship’s well-meaning and earnest doctor was forced to resort to the book The ABC’s of the Eye for reference—trust me when I tell you that it was too late to get out and start swimming, although I was sorely tempted.

I can report that my parents successfully visited Greece and Turkey.  The Mediterranean cruise they took as part of the trip was lovely.  Two weeks later, the boat they had been on sank to the bottom of the ocean. 

Of course, sometimes my parents bring these disasters on themselves.  Who in the hell plans a trip to Alaska when your daughter is 8 months’ pregnant?  Bonnie and Steve!  They had been gone a couple of days and were at the Westernmost point of the United State (Skagway, Alaska, if you’re curious) when my water broke. 

What ensued as a Steve Martin/John Candy-esque escapade with a little World’s Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers thrown in for good measure.  Mom thought that one of the bush pilots was being rude asking everyone’s weight, but he quite literally had to know every pound in the plane if folks were interested in staying airborne.  Kinda makes fudging on your weight take on a whole new significance, n’est-ce pas?

Now, I know that some folks out there think that I might be exaggerating a touch and that’s fine.  My parents had friends that went with them on each of the aforementioned trips, so you can verify if you so desire.  There are also some adrenaline junkies out there whose interest is now peaked.  Consider yourself warned and make sure your life insurance is paid up.

Monday, March 21, 2011

SSSSSouthern Bellesssss

“Snakes.  Why’d it have to be snakes?”

                                                                                    --Indiana Jones

“Enough is enough!  I’m tired of these motherf---ing snakes on this motherf---ing plane!”

                                                                                    --Samuel L. Jackson

“Holy @#&ing @&#!  Kill it!  GAAAAHHHH!”

                                                                                    --Ashley Culbreth Council

Blech.  Snakes.  Ick.

For starters, I’m pretty sure that human beings aren’t supposed to like snakes because that was the form Satan chose to tempt Eve a gazillion years ago.  I realize that there are people out there who think that snakes are the cutest little things they ever did see and I suppose that they are entitled to their opinion—deluded as it may be—but if one of those deluded people and their little pet gets within 100 yards of me, a Restraining Order won’t be the half of it.

I’m also well aware of the argument that snakes are necessary for the balance of nature and the circle of life and all of that crap.  Fine.  They can go and do their part by eating frogs and mice and whatnot, but they better be stealth about it because when I see a snake, I don’t differentiate between venomous and non-venomous:  The only good snake is a dead snake.

I’m not entirely sure whether Ophidiophobia is genetic or a learned behavior.  I can remember being very, very little (I couldn’t have been more than three years old) and out in the garden with my Great-Grandmother Dora.  We were walking back to the house and Grandma saw a snake.  She let out this fantastic Amazonian battle cry whereupon my Great-Uncle Tony immediately came running and efficiently sent the snake to the Great Beyond.  I can’t remember if I was scared.

I know one thing:  Regardless of whether or not my fear is inherited or learned, I got it from my mother.  My mom is more afraid of snakes than I am. 

One day, Mom and I were leaving the house to run some sort of errand and, when we walked out of the front door, a snake was sunning itself slap across our front walk.  I don’t know what kind of snake it was and, again, I tell you that I don’t care. 

Mom told me to keep an eye on the booger while she ran to the garage in order to find some sort of weapon to wield.  I’m not entirely sure what my duties as “watcher” entailed.  I certainly wasn’t going to detain it for custodial questioning.  The most I was willing to do from the safety of the front hall would be to confirm, “Yep, there it went.  Saw it with my own two eyes.” 

A minute or so into my covert surveillance, I heard this blood curdling scream from the back of the house that was reminiscent of the damsels in Hammer Dracula films.  The snake shot into the bushes where it probably died from a heart attack.  I ran to the back where I found Mom leaning against the door frame of the garage and looking like she was about to pass out.

Mom was very undone by the snake and the fact that she would have to take care of it herself rather than send my father into battle made things that much worse.  She rushed into the garage and her speed apparently disturbed some of the things propped up by the door.  A rake or something tipped over and hit Mom on the back and—thinking that the house had been surrounded by attack snakes—she emitted a glass breaking screech.

Mom was both relieved and upset.  She didn’t have to get close enough to the snake to kill it and we had not, in fact, been surrounded by an army of commando snakes intent upon guerilla warfare.  On the down side, the snake lived to fight another day and could very well decide to come out and sun itself again.

On at least two occasions, I have been driving my car and a snake has shot our across the road in front of me.  Each time I completely forgot about being safely cocooned within two tons of metal and threw my hands up and pulled my feet off of the floor so it couldn’t “get me.”  Fortunately, I came to my senses quick enough so as not to kill myself and others, but I can’t guarantee it won’t ever happen again.

I’m not the only one.  I have a dear friend who carries a shotgun while mowing the lawn in case there is a snake sighting.  I also know several friends in law enforcement who have been called to houses as the result of wild or pet snake problems and, rather than wait for Animal Control, weapons have been deployed.  One officer used his day off to repair the floor of an elderly lady's home after he blew a hole through it while answering a 911 call involving a copperhead the night before.  The lady wasn't all that upset--she said that she would have done the same if she had a gun.
I will leave you with one last scary snake story:  Several years ago, one of my cousins lived in a house in Whiteville, North Carolina.  If you have never been to Whiteville, don’t bother—just go and stare at a blank piece of white paper for a while and you get the same effect.  Anyway, my cousin was leaving the house and, when she opened the screen door, a snake that had been resting on top of the door frame fell down the back of her shirt.  The fact that she didn’t expire on the spot is a testament to the strength of a Diamond Magnolia.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Great Bedtime Battle of the Southern Belle


It is the battle cry of Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western parents:  Please, for the love of God, go to sleep!  If you stay in your bed tonight, I will take you to the movies over the weekend.  If you go to sleep tonight I will buy you a car when you turn sixteen.  Please!  Just!  Go!  To!  Sleep!

I’ll admit it:  I wasn’t the easiest little sprout to get to bed.  Word has it that I fought about going to sleep, wouldn’t stay asleep and I never, ever stayed in my own bed.  As evidence to the aforementioned allegations, there is a photograph of me standing up, but bent over on my bed sound asleep.  I stalwartly refused to lie down, but the rest of me eventually threw in the towel. 

In my defense, I had very vivid—although somewhat peculiar—nightmares.  I was terrified of Spiderman.  Yes, the wholesome comic book hero Spiderman. 

Way back in the day, The Electric Company came on right after Sesame Street and The Electric Company had a little Spiderman segment.  If I watched so much as the opening title song for EC, I dreamt that very night that Spiderman was leaning over my bed and trying to get me.  I remember having to sit out in the hall when my kindergarten class got to watch EC on special treat days because Mom had to speak to my teacher about the whole mess.

I also had a vivid and very frightening dream that the movie critic Gene Shalit was leaning over my bed a la Spiderman.  My shrieks sent my dad running into my room.  Damned if I know where that one came from, but I think he might have actually been scarier than Spiderman.

Yet another time, a dream caused me to honestly believe that I was being chased by snakes and that they were crawling up the walls of my bedroom.  I immediately ran and jumped into my parents’ bed, but it seemed that the snakes decided to follow me.  I proceeded to wail about the snakes in Mom and Dad’s room to the point that my ultra snake phobic mother (ophidiophobic for you Scrabble fans out there) started to buy the hype and freak out. 

Would you like to know the hope that kept my parents functioning during my poorly rested youth?  One night, Mom was about to lose it and Dad said, “Just think...when she grows up, her children will probably do the same thing to her.”  Dad’s Karmic suggestion caused Mom to fervently pray that my children would do the same to me.

During my babysitting years, I learned early that wrestling unwilling children to sleep was waaaay above my pay grade.  Accordingly, I let them run around like wild beasties until they quite literally dropped in their tracks.  I had one kid fall asleep the second he sat still long enough to drink some water—that God for sippy cups because he fall asleep with the cup in between the table and his mouth.  I had another one fall asleep on the toilet.

Of course, when it came to my own children, I couldn’t very well follow the Lord of the Flies plan if for no other reason than I really wanted to get some damn sleep.  My mother got her wish of retribution with Baby Belle 1.  To this day, I will never understand how a tiny little baby can be stone cold asleep and wake up instantly when put in its crib, yet that same baby stays sound asleep when placed in your bed.  Furthermore, Baby Belle 1 continues to sleep with Mama and she is a terrible cover hog.

Let me take a moment to assure you that my mother (or Bon Bon as she is called by my girls) has enjoyed every single minute of my restless parenthood. 

Second children are known for being easier about the whole sleep gig.  I think it’s because they have some sort of innate Darwinian knowledge that they have to be better because their parents are still going bat shit crazy with the firstborn. 

Take my brother for example:  When Ethan was born, he slept and ate and slept and ate and the only time he really cried was when he was hungry.  My mother spent a lot of time standing by his crib, gazing at him anxiously because—thanks to me—she was under the impression that babies were supposed to act a whole lot worse than he did.  She thought that something was wrong with him.

Baby Belle 2 looked promising in the beginning.  When she was born, Scott and I looked at each other in breathless amazement every time we put her in her bassinet or crib because she stayed asleep.  She stayed asleep!  Baby Belle 2 has become a little more of a challenge as she’s gotten older although she still sleeps in her own bed for amazing lengths of time—my hypothesis is that BB2 sees what BB1 gets away with and monkey see, monkey do.

So—yes—it apparently is possible to hex your children as much as thirty years into the future.  My husband doesn’t understand why he has to bear the burden of my curse, but his mom told me that, when he was a baby, he would throw up like clockwork if someone didn’t get to his crib in time.  Ha............................

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Birthday Belles

Few things in this world change so completely as one’s view regarding the date of their birth. 

Children love to “grow up” and they certainly don’t mind a day that’s all about them (although many parents would argue that every day is all about their children).  After 21, the prospect of birthdays begins to take on a rapid decline in popularity where our attitudes start with apathy and graduate to full-on dread.  I mean, who really gives a crap about turning 25 and finally being legally eligible to rent a car?  Woohoo.  Turning 35 and able to run for President?  Yippee.

As I am sure you can probably imagine, Southern Belle birthdays can—on occasion—get pretty unique.  When I was little, the “cool” birthday venues were the roller skate rink and Showbiz Pizza (now Chuck E. Cheese) and Putt-Putt.  There are probably more, but I have blocked them out.  Would you like to know what I did for my ninth, tenth and eleventh birthdays?  I had slumber parties where the main attraction was a showing of Gone With the Wind.  The miracle is that I had any guests willing to attend the second and/or third parties. 

When I became a parent, I quickly learned that kiddie birthday parties definitely aren’t what they used to be.  Film productions are put together with greater ease and less elaboration than a 5th birthday party.  There are pink limos and spa treatments and rented out movie theaters (I practically have to take out a second mortgage to take me and the Baby Belles to the movies, so I can’t begin to fathom how much a whole theater sets a parent back).  There are caterers and live bands and birthday cakes that look like they were made on one of those TV shows in constant rotation on the WE Channel.

Although crippling expense is obviously a concern with today’s child birthday parties, a few perks do happen to come along for the ride.  First, with the world being what it is today, parents tend to hang around to keep eyes on their own kid rather than leave one or two utterly frazzled parents with the task.  The case could also be made that the parents want to enjoy a little swank themselves because “damned if they had birthdays like this when they were growing up!”   

Thus far, Scott and I have remained lucky in that we’ve been able to keep our birthdays nice and quiet.  Thirty passed with barely a whimper and—hopefully—forty will do the same...although Scott is facing the big 4-0 two years sooner than his beloved bride.  (I had to do it, babe.  xoxo)

I certainly can’t speak for Scott, but the birthday parties that my parents and their friends threw for each other in my youth forevermore sealed my preference for nice and quiet gatherings.  I believe I alluded to it in a previous post, but when Mom turned forty, the entire front yard of our house was rolled with toilet paper, there were pink plastic flamingos stuck all over the yard and there was a porta-potty trucked in with a signed poster of some dude in bikini briefs taped to the inside of the door.  The coup de grace occurred when about two hundred Domino’s Pizzas were delivered to our house and Dad was stuck with the tab. 

When my father turned forty, his friends posted a photograph of him in the newspaper.  In the photo, Dad was clearly startled as he had just come out of the shower and he wasn’t exactly expecting company.  His hair was sticking up all over the place and the banner underneath said something to the effect of “The Muskrat is 40.”  I’m sure that there is a reason for the nickname of “Muskrat” and I am furthermore sure that I don’t want to know what that reason is.

My parents and their friends were also inexplicably fond of giving cakes to each other featuring what I can only describe as well-endowed ladies of the evening.  The boobs were made out of icing, so getting one was kind of equivalent to scoring a flower on a normal cake if you like icing.  Again, I have no doubt that there was a reason for the borderline x-rated culinary masterpieces and, again, I don’t particularly want to know.

With such bawdy revelry over a milestone birthday, it isn’t too hard to see why other “big ones” would be spent in a dark house with the shades drawn and the telephone off the hook.  Yes, that happened, but a big flashing sign was erected in the yard nonetheless.

In spite of all of the aforementioned horror, I can happily report that there might be a light at the end of the birthday tunnel!  Although it barely amounted to a drop in the bucket, my father was tickled pink when he became eligible for Medicare—he was finally getting something back!

Also, my Grandma Willie was so impressed with turning ninety that she did it twice.  On her first ninetieth birthday, we went over to her house where she took great joy in saying that she’d had the same fingers and toes for ninety years.  It wasn’t until my parents went over to wish her happy birthday that that they did a little math and realized that Grandma was a little too eager with her progress:  She was only eighty-nine.  That made turning ninety the next year all the sweeter.